As we approach the end of 2017, it’s time to prepare your digital marketing team for the year ahead and look at the emerging trends that will rule the search world in 2018.
This is a summary I’ve created with bullet-proof strategies and tested practices that I’ve gathered from the gurus of the SEO industry after attending as a speaker at SMXL Milan 2017. If you, like me, want to make a real difference in 2018 with SEO, this blog post is for you.
What are the top trends for SEO in 2018?
There are a number of aspects in the world of content findability that we have successfully tested in 2017 and that will become even more prominent in 2018. Let’s have a close look at the top 5:
👉 1. Structured Data and Semantics
👉 2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
👉 3. Mobile-first index, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps
👉 4. Search is Everywhere
👉 5. Voice search, chatbots and personal assistant search optimization
1. Structured Data and Semantics
This November at PubCom Gary Illyes from Google confirmed that semantic markup is used, way beyond the search snippets, to better index your website and to rank content in Google’s search result pages.
“add structure data to your pages because during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about.”
More interestingly Gary suggested to go beyond the markup recommended by Google on their developers guides for semantic markup.
“and don’t just think about the structured data that we documented on developers.google.com. Think about any schema.org schema that you could use on your pages. It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly, it leads to better ranks in some sense, because we can rank easier.”
Very happy to participate to the Structured Data & Semantics panel at #SMXLmilan w/ @marthavanberkel @rjw and @sjachille ~ find here all 3 presentations 👉https://t.co/JPZAYPcoaw #semanticseo pic.twitter.com/idtTzwGbBd
— Andrea Volpini (@cyberandy) November 15, 2017
Here is all you need to know about schema.org markup and how to use it to organically grow the traffic on your website. The talks from Richard Wallis, Martha van Berkel and… myself 😎 are a great starting point to learn what is schema.org markup and how you can use it on your website to improve engagement metrics, CTR and a lot more (from semantic analytics to building your own chatbot).
As Google anticipated already, we also expect to see the implementation of schema.org markup in different areas of the content industry. The Trust Project is a clear example of news organizations and tech giants like Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter converging on schema.org to markup high quality news and implement fact checking with semantic markup.
Another area of development for schema.org in 2018 is the implementation of Blockchain ID for schema:Person and Blockchain certificates that can enable innovative new ways to do SEO and to share value in the publishing sector.
You might have noticed that Bitcoin is continuing to grow in terms of adoption. What you might have missed, is that, most importantly, its underlying technology called blockchain (a digital ledger that transparently stores any value transactions in a peer-to-peer network) can have a huge impact on how value is re-distributed between search marketing agencies, content producers, website owners and advertisers.
New business models can arise by the implementation of smart contract agreements. In the publishing sector, we’ve seen already in 2017 platforms like Steem – a blockchain-based rewards social networks that monetizes content – using their own cryptocurrency (BitCoin compatible) and other initiatives that could greatly benefit from a broader adoption of Blockchain technologies.
While to this point there are only proposals to add Blockchain ID to schema.org, work has been in progress in the past months and this can really disrupt both the search engine marketing industry and digital advertising.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
A lot of the discussion on how AI is transforming SEO really has to do with RankBrain and other machine learning algorithms that are impacting how content is prioritized over Google search results — but also on the Facebook news stream, as well as Twitter search results. All these changes boiled down to three aspects:
- UX is king. Machines tend to prioritize content that is considered more engaging for the end users. To do so, they need to better understand and disambiguate content (and we’re back to the importance of schema.org and semantic SEO techniques) and to analyze the user behaviours by looking at metrics such as the dwell time (this is really how much time the user is spending on your page). RankBrain is an example here. This newly introduced algorithm, now considered the third most important ranking factor, takes in great consideration the time a user spends on your page. Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean recently explained that the dwell time is when:
“someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, before going back to the search results page”
There are also now interesting studies documenting the dwell time and the correlation with rankings (see for instance an industry report from Search Metrics). On average, for a top 10 Google result, the dwell time is 3 minutes and 10 seconds. This is quite a lot of time if you compare it with the average time spent on a page and it’s clear that if a reader engages on a piece of content for so long, it’s most likely that he or she likes the page and finds it informative enough for that specific search intent.
- Click-Through-Rate is Queen. Just like dwell time, CTR is one of those metrics that computers can use to prioritize your content. This is true for organic search results as well as for paid advertising. When a user clicks on a content it means that he or she thinks that this content is good. When many users click on a page, above-average CTR for that query (yes, CTR is very relative), the content gets boosted and will stick to the top. This is particularly true nowadays on Google when advertising, featured snippets and knowledge panels make it very hard for a user to land on a webpage and… in 2018 this is just going to get worst.The real interpreter of CTR is Larry Kim and his advice on creating Unicorn content. Larry has been analyzing the polarization of CTR in organic search as well as in social streams and his marketing strategies are a must read for every digital marketers in 2018. Read it up from this article on Medium.
- Data is the new oil in SEO. As machines get smarter (or dumber in some cases), marketers need to adjust and from traditional SEO techniques need to move into the realm of digital marketing. From analyzing the correlation between the indexing of your website from Google with your social activity to using machine-learning to prioritize backlinks opportunities the so called “Modern SEO” is all about data.
Lots of great information for modern SEOs in this slide deck — definitely worth checking out! https://t.co/F1o9aXiJXE
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 1, 2017
I had the pleasure of meeting in real life, during SMXL Milan 2017, Michael King (iPullRank on Twitter) and his deck on Modern SEO is your definite guide to become a data ninja in the search engine world.
3. Mobile-first index, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps
Speed gets bigger and bigger. Having a super fast mobile website in 2018 is not going to be an option but a key technical requirement for SEO. With Google that is about to deploy worldwide its mobile-first index optimizing the user experience on mobile devices is becoming crucial.
Remember that already 57% of the web traffic is coming from mobile devices as a recent report from BrightEdge announced a few months ago.
In mobile search, few factors really affect search rankings: a) context of the search intent (here once again, structured data helps) and b) accessibility of the content (this really means the speed at which the user perceives your content).
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages has been, in 2017 one of the most debatable web technologies, but, again, in a lot of cases, you cannot live without it. Believe me. Users reading Google AMP pages are spending 35 percent more time on average than users accessing standard mobile web pages. We’ve celebrated two years since the launch of the AMP project and in 2018 AMP will definitely get bigger.
In the technical SEO space there is a lot going on and a good start is to focus on the three principles of positional SEO by Britney Muller SEO & Content Architect at MOZ:
— Spindox (@Spindox_It) November 14, 2017
Start learning about Progressive Web Applications and all the tactics that Britney shared in her latest keynote 👇
Also read very carefully the slide deck of Nichola Stott (co-founder of Erudite): “Fast is the Only Speed” – on how to make the Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool follow in love with your website.
4. Search is Everywhere
Think outside of the (search) box
Really the best way to find out how search marketing is evolving is to dedicate some time following the advices of Rand Fishkin who literally created this industry a long time ago. Meeting Rand at SMXL Milan 2017 has been truly inspirational.
In the year of the Russian Hacking and Influencing the US Election, Rand had the courage to start his talk on cultural biases and gender inequality.
Yes this is also SEO and it’s worth your attention.
As a pure AI-first approach moves forward and it gets harder and harder to gain organic visibility on search results, marketers need to revamp their digital strategies and look with new eyes to threats and opportunities.
Here is the deck on Cultural Conditioning by Rand Fishkin.
5. Voice search, chatbots and personal assistant search optimization
Last but not least we need to focus on voice ready content, voice search and personal assistant search optimization. Bing in 2017 has already introduced chatbots in their enriched organic search result as well as in paid results and will continue to make it easier for consumer to bypass websites and to hook directly to smart digital assistants and chatbots.
— WordLift (@wordliftit) November 15, 2017
Few steps that you can follow can really help you build voice-ready content that engage your audience:
- optimize content for featured snippets,
- keep the focus on long tail conversational keywords,
- include question and answers in your content,
- use entities – structuring content using entity extraction can help search engines and chatbots designers effectively re-use your content within their conversational experiences.
— WordLift (@wordliftit) November 15, 2017
Purna Virji, from Bing, is by far one of the most influential SEO experts in the emerging voice search arena and definitely there is so much to learn from her (including her views on marriage).
I have been happily coding and experimenting with both voice search and conversational UIs driven by semantically structured content and I foresee emerging techniques to do SEO in 2018 that specifically promotes ‘intents’ (what users ask to personal assistants) and help you analyze conversation metrics (a new area of analytics whose goal is to let you improve your own chatbot by reporting on previous interactions).
Here is an example of how I turned our website into a chatbot and how I plan to make your websites talk in 2018.
— Andrea Volpini (@cyberandy) November 15, 2017
It’s been a real pleasure to spend these two days in Milan, learning and sharing knowledge with SEO world-class experts.
It is clear that 2018 is going to be a seminal year for SEO.
The progression towards a customer centric approach and the focus on structured data as a way to achieve this will impact us all. We will have to be relentlessly focussed on the creation of user focussed, high-quality and semantically structured content to stand out from our competition.
I strongly believe the structuring and analysis of this data will become a day-to-day part of an SEO’s job…